UPDATE: Since I posted this article, Jefferson Bethke and I have had a chance to talk by email and over the phone. I included some of our conversation in a follow up post. I hope you will be as encouraged by the exchange as I was.
There’s a new You Tube video going viral and it’s about Jesus and religion.
Specifically how Jesus hates religion.
The video—which in a few days has gone from hundreds of views to thousands to millions—shows Jefferson Bethke, who lives in the Seattle area, delivering a well-crafted, sharply produced, spoken word poem. The point, according to Bethke, is “to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion.” In the past few days I’ve seen this video pop up all over Facebook. I’ve had people from my church say they like it. Some has asked me what I think. Others have told me there’s something off about the poem, but they can’t quite articulate what it is. I’ll try to explain what that is in a moment. But first watch the video for yourself.
Before I say anything else, let me say Jefferson Bethke seems like a sincere young man who wants people to know God’s scandalous grace. I’m sure he’s telling the truth when he says on his Facebook page: “I love Jesus, I’m addicted to grace, and I’m just a messed up dude trying to make Him famous.” If I met him face to face, I bet I’d like Jefferson and his honesty and passion. I bet I’d be encouraged by his story and his desire to free people from the snares of self-help, self-righteous religion.
And yet (you knew it was coming), amidst a lot of true things in this poem there is a lot that is unhelpful and misleading.
This video is the sort of thing that many younger Christians love. It sounds good, looks good, and feels good. But is it true? That’s the question we must always ask. And to answer that question, I want to go through this poem slowly, verse by verse. Not because I think this is the worst thing ever. It’s certainly not. Nor because I think this video will launch a worldwide revolution. I want to spend some time on this because Bethke perfectly captures the mood, and in my mind the confusion, of a lot of earnest, young Christians.